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Frequently asked questions

Who are the Christian Brethren?

The title 'Christian Brethren' is the name often given to a group of independent autonomous Christian congregations, which trace their origins back to Ireland in the 1820's. They are sometimes referred to as the Plymouth Brethren, or just Brethren, but some members dislike such titles because they suggest that they are a denomination. The Brethren have seen themselves as returning to an earlier tradition of worship as practiced in the New Testament, before the creation of formal churches and denominations.

The Brethren movement split in two in 1848 and the two wings are often referred to as the 'Open Brethren' and the 'Exclusive Brethren'. These titles continue to be used despite continued fragmentation and division, particularly in the 'Exclusive Brethren', in the years since. The movement in its various forms is a very 'broad church', but there are a number of distinctive doctrinal and ecclesiological features that characterize congregations in the Brethren tradition.

Exclusive groups (of which there is a number of different variations) have often adopted more tightly knit and centralized organizational forms. The independent and autonomous nature of 'open' congregations means that there is no centralized decision-making, and no hierarchy to police the Brethren for conformity; consequently there is much variety. Having said this, in many congregations across the world there is a clear sense of Brethren identity, a community of worship, and a similarity of belief. On the other hand, in recent years many independent 'open' congregations, which trace their roots to Brethren traditions, have changed, adapting to changing circumstances, and would be loath to describe themselves by the name 'Brethren'. The 'Brethren' have always had a strong evangelistic and missionary thrust. In consequence, there are 'Brethren' congregations in up to 130 countries in the world.

There are introductions the Brethren available on the Internet. See for instance:

Are they the same as the Mennonite Brethren?

No. The Mennonite Brethren are a branch of the Mennonites who have their origins in the anabaptist groups of Switzerland and Germany which date themselves to the 1520s, 300 years before the Brethren emerged.

Are they connected with the Methodists?

No. the Methodists have their origins in the first evangelical revival in Britain in the 1730s and 1740s.

Are they connected with the Quakers?

Only rather indirectly. Some of the earliest Brethren were originally Quakers and there was a Quaker influence on the distinctive character of Brethren worship meetings.

What is the Christian Brethren Archive?

For an overview of the collection see our Christian Brethren collection web page.

Who can use the Archive?

The Archive is open to 'all bona fide researchers'. We interpret this very liberally, and we have yet to turn anyone away. If you wish to visit the Archive, please contact the Archivist first (see contact details at the bottom of this page).

How can I consult papers or books in the Archive?

The materials in the Archive are consulted in the Library's Special Collections Reading Room.

This is a pleasant room, but has rather strict and formal procedures. Please do not let these put you off - the rules are to protect the collection (much of which is unique and irreplaceable), but we want people to use it.

We ask that on your first visit, you bring some kind of formal identification (such a passport, driving license or utility bill), and also a letter of recommendation (a practice also common to Brethren congregations).

On arrival at the Reading Room you will be asked to place your coats and other belongings in a locker at the entrance (for which you will need a £1 coin).

I am a student thinking of doing a project/dissertation/thesis on a Brethren related theme. Can you help?

Yes, please contact the Archivist (details at the bottom of this page).

I attend a Brethren congregation myself, but am not a student or historian. Can I visit the Archive?

You will be made very welcome. Please contact the Archivist (details at the bottom of the page). See above for formal procedures, but don't let them put you off, the Reading Room staff are very friendly and helpful.

Relatives of mine used to attend a Brethren congregation Do you have anything on them?

Using the 'Edit' menu on your web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla), it is possible to do a search of the Archive's web-based catalogue of manuscript sources.

To do a search using Internet Explorer:

  1. Go to the relevant web page - .
  2. Click on 'Edit', followed by 'Find'.
  3. Type the surname of your relative into the 'Find what?' box.
  4. Click the 'Find next' button.
  5. Continue clicking on the 'Find next' button until you reach the end of the document.

To do a search using Mozilla:

  1. Go to the relevant web page - .
  2. Click on 'Edit', followed by 'Find in This Page'.
  3. Type the surname of your relative into the 'Find text' box.
  4. Click the 'Find' button.
  5. Continue clicking on the 'Find next' button until you reach the end of the document.

If you are unable to find anything using this search, it is unlikely that the Archive has any material on your relative. It might be worth consulting the Archivist, who has resources to search deeper into the archives. However, note that the Brethren did not keep centralized membership records, and the number of congregations for which we have detailed lists of those attending is very limited.

Do you have anything on a particular congregation?

Please consult the catalogue, in the manner described in the previous answer.

Do you have any works by a particular author?

To search for works by an author, visit the Archive's web-based catalogue of printed materials. The catalogue is arranged so that each letter of the alphabet has its own web page. Click the letter for the relevant page, and search using your web browser.

To do a search using Internet Explorer:

  1. Go to the relevant web page.
  2. Click on 'Edit', followed by 'Find'.
  3. Type the name of the author into the 'Find what?' box.
  4. Click the 'Find next' button.
  5. Continue clicking on the 'Find next' button until you reach the end of the document.

To do a search using Mozilla:

  1. Go to the relevant web page.
  2. Click on 'Edit', followed by 'Find in This Page'.
  3. Type the name of the author into the 'Find text' box.
  4. Click the 'Find' button.
  5. Continue clicking on the 'Find next' button until you reach the end of the document.

If unsuccessful, it may be worth searching the main catalogue of the John Rylands University Library - as recent additions to the collection have been added to the main catalogue, but have not yet been included in the Archive's catalogue.

I am looking for a book/periodical/article, do you have a copy?

Use the same method as searching for an author (above). Note that periodical titles are listed in the Archive's printed materials catalogue in alphabetical order, so can be searched for using the letters of the alphabet as above.

Is it possible to borrow items from the Archive?

In general, we do not loan out items. Much of our collection is unique and irreplaceable. Consequently we operate as a reference only collection. It may be possible to borrow printed items via the Inter Library Loan scheme, but only in the UK, and any such loans are at the Archivist's discretion. We do not let out items published before 1900, or anything that is fragile and likely to be damaged in the post.

Can you make photocopies of books/articles/archival papers etc.?

It may be possible, but note that copyright laws apply to modern material. Also note that some of our older printed items are fragile, so that placing them on a photocopier would damage them. For small items contact the Archivist (details at the bottom of this page).

Do you sell books?

No

I have lots of old Brethren books/tracts/sermons/pamphlets. Would you like them for the archive?

We are always interested in acquiring new items for the Archive. However, space is limited, so we do not wish to duplicate items we already have in our collection. Please contact the Archivist (details a the bottom of this page) about your material so that he can check it. Certainly do not assume it will be a duplicate and dispose of it elsewhere.

I have memoirs/personal papers relating to my life/beliefs/experiences in the Brethren. Would you be interested in them?

Yes, very much so. Please contact the Archivist (details at the bottom of this page).

I have the papers of a Brethren congregation in my loft/ I am an elder in a Brethren congregation, and we are thinking of clearing out our old documents. Would you like them for the Archive?

Yes please! This is just the kind of thing the Archive was set up to collect. Please contact the Archivist (details at the bottom of this page).

Contact the Archivist:

jessica.smith@manchester.ac.uk

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